Posted By: Factotum <Info Msg Rep>
First off, I would like to apologize on behalf of Firewall. I know that’s small comfort in light of your situation, but a time-accelerated simulspace brieﬁng is better than nothing. You do have eidetic memory, right? Your muse should be able to pull up relevant sections on a contextual basis during your mission. The schedule I’ve been given indicates that we have roughly 60 hours to go over ﬁeld operations. It’s best if we begin now. Complaining about your mission to me is unproductive and dangerous. I can’t do anything to change your mission and we have a limited amount of time to work. Focus on the task at hand for now. It’s easier to get payback at the sons-of-bitches who forced this on you after you build some rep in the Eye. You might change your mind after you complete your mission, though. Most sentinels come to understand why they are necessary after their ﬁrst mission.
Please refer to me as Factotum if you have any questions. To anticipate your ﬁrst few, yes, I am a carefully pruned beta fork of an anonymous Firewall operative. I am only sent out to brief new agents on missions. No, I don’t have access to any information about your particular mission that you don’t already have. As you will see later, it’s better to treat information as a hazard that must be minimized.
We’ll start at the beginning, looking at how ops are put together, and proceed from there.
The Watch: The Role of Scanners
If you look at your org chart and terminology index, you should already know the terms scanner and proxy. We know some of the sentinels with whom we work don’t fully appreciate the role proxies play behind the scenes. We’ve heard them deride proxies for “staying in the rear with the gear.” Granted, most of our resleevings come from erasure squads and sentinels in the ﬁeld, but we do not measure importance through casualties metrics. Your operations would get nowhere without the support of the proxies behind them, and it all starts with the scanners.
By monitoring and analyzing every bit of data they can access, scanners form the core of our intelligence efforts. They detect and prevent as many existential threats as sentinels defuse or disrupt. This is done through a combination of surveillance and data mining to ﬁnd actionable intelligence. When they ﬁnd something, they’re the ones who start the mission process. They propose a new op, the server votes on it, and a router takes it from there. This ability to kick things off means that scanners must retain a sense of objectivity in their work. New ops mean they may be responsible for sending Firewall personnel in harm’s way. Failure to initiate an op may mean that innocents pay the price.
Sentinels often think that all scanners are infomorphs hooked into the mesh nonstop, processing every public and private feed in the system at once; our own private panopticon. Firewall does not believe in wasting resources for minimal returns. Blanket surveillance of the entire solar system skews the signal-to-noise ratio, making analysis impossible for our limited personnel. We try only to focus on relevant newsfeeds and communications from parties of interest (obtained via hacking), though the problem comes from identifying what is relevant to what is not. The average scanner is a nerve-wracked bundle of anxiety and guilt, endlessly fretting over the alerts they’ve handed off and the reports they didn’t pass on. The reports of missing indentured workers on Luna are troubling, but are they signs of a greater problem or just normal political violence? The recent scans of the Jovian ﬂotilla in the Outer Belt indicate a slight chance their ships are infected with a subtle strain of the exsurgent virus, but could that just be an error in our probe’s sensors? Scanners ask themselves questions like that every day, and few of them are ever answered deﬁnitively. It is an unforgiving job. Scanners spend a lot of time and energy trying to perfect their craft.
Lately, this has meant using complex data modeling to forecast existential threats before they happen. It has limited usefulness compared to our surveillance efforts, but some of our scanners believe that’s because we don’t have enough data on past threats to create a proper model. They believe that if we could obtain archived mission data from other security agencies and combine it with our own observations, we could have a real breakthrough. I think it’s important for you know that Firewall is more than just putting out ﬁres after we see smoke. Eventually, we want to stop the ﬁre before it even starts. We’re not there yet, though, so let’s talk about what usually happens.
Despite your abrupt entry into our organization, we actually do have standard operating procedures and best practices. Operations are not always as chaotic as ﬁrst impressions may make it seem. Our organization is designed to be as effective as possible in stopping existential threats while not risking its long-term health. In practical terms, this means we operate in a heavily compartmentalized structure, with individual cells having a great deal of autonomy. You have a great deal of latitude in how you act, as long as you follow the key principles of good tradecraft. The following guidelines in tradecraft—identifying threats, coordinating missions with off-site routers, and communicating with vectors—are not negotiable rules.
Every mission Firewall launches drains our limited resources and puts the entire organization at risk, no matter how small or innocuous it is. Send a single agent out to pick up some carbon for the team’s maker and you risk an Ozma team grabbing and replacing the sentinel with an impersonator. Task an infomorph to watch a popular XP feed on the mesh and you risk her becoming infected with a basilisk hack. Granted these risks are extremely minor, but there is no such thing as a safe or risk-free mission. Every action exposes Firewall to a certain degree. We have to carefully weigh every potential threat against the costs. We also have to make sure we’re not chasing a false alarm. Correct threat identiﬁcation is the key to managing our resources. It is also a very hard skill to master.
Despite their best efforts, scanners sometimes misread the intelligence they analyze. We seldom pursue the easily conﬁrmed threats to transhumanity because local authorities catch the obvious cases. However, legitimate security agencies rarely focus enough on detecting and ﬁghting subtle and wide-ranging threats. They do not go after targets after they ﬂee their local jurisdiction (though they may place a bounty). They often do not even share data with each other, so a threat that travels from the inner system to the rim is free to start all over again. They are subject to the whims of their sponsors, be it a government, hypercorp or autonomist political faction. This leaves us as the ﬁnal safeguard. Many times, we have to act on ambiguous intelligence only because no one else in the system will. Even if we get a positive conﬁrmation of an exsurgent presence, however, we do not necessarily send in agents.
Contrary to what you might think, we do not scramble erasure squads the instant we detect an exsurgent presence anywhere in the system. After all, we already know about the quarantine zones on Mars, Luna, and other hot spots around the system. If we just wanted to destroy as many TITAN war machines as possible, we could easily set up bases around each zone and go to war, but that’s not how we work. Our teams assess threats based on the potential danger to transhumanity, not on the inherent power of the threat itself. A group of Barsoomian terrorists plotting to unleash a nanovirus in Elysium takes precedence over an exsurgent outbreak in a remote brinker habitat in the outer belt. Protecting transhumanity is our singular purpose and we prioritize accordingly. Exactly what constitutes a threat to transhumanity ultimately falls on the judgment of the proxies handling the case. As a sentinel, you just need to know more experienced and informed agents have decided that this mission is worth the risk to you and the organization. To summarize, Firewall ﬁlls in the gaps that no security agency can cover because of limitations inherent to their structure. We act on imperfect information handled by overworked and under-appreciated analysts. Every false alarm costs us precious resources and threatens the organization, but they are unavoidable. A single mistake could doom our entire species. Got the picture? Let’s move on.
Coordination and Information Sharing
Scanners also routinely start up ops that are solely intended for more intel gathering. Sometimes we have leads, but not enough data to act on. In this case, sentinels can be posted to investigate, or vectors can be tasked with digging a little deeper. It is also common for scanners to pass data over to crows for more detailed analysis—especially if it requires an expert’s eye or specialist knowledge. In cases like these, both vectors and crows can also take the initiative to start a new operation if the information at hand calls for it.
Scanners still have a degree of autonomy and can choose to ignore our compartmentalization protocols when necessary. Often, this happens when someone comes across time sensitive and actionable intel that applies to a distant operational theater. In other words, if someone on Mercuryﬁnds out about an impending attack on Oberon, that scanner has discretion to alert our agents stationed there before discussing it with the rest of the local server. The Eye is useful for disseminating intel like that, especially if you want to remain anonymous.
Esoteric information can be traded through the Eye, which we try to encourage. There is no telling what kind of knowledge you may need on a mission. When in doubt, ask the hive mind on the Eye! A current scan of requests on the Eye right now reveals calls for old Earth sports scores, Barsoomian beer recipes, conspiracy theories on the ﬁrst moon landing, and firmware for a Direct Action kinetic sniper rifle. Remember to give back to the community, as every request draws on your rep.
After a particular threat is identified, control of an operation passes to an agent who specializes in coordinating missions. They’re called routers, and you should be as nice to them as you can. They’re the ones who usually assign missions to sentinels. Sentinels really want routers to be on their side and go the extra kilometer in a crisis. Keep in mind that they have more sentinels to worry about than just your team, and favoritism is inevitable. The assholes who cause almost as much damage as they ﬁx, refuse orders for no good reason, and cause unnecessary drama aren’t going to get the same treatment as the sentinels who work well with others. We are a clandestine organization; a degree of hierarchal ofﬁce politics is unavoidable.
Every router only has so many sentinels and resources under their command, so they may kick up a certain threat to another router or even another server if they don’t feel like they can handle it on their own. Usually this happens when the router’s sentinels are already on missions or are recovering from other operations. Shit happens. These transfer missions are a pain, because each router tries to optimize their resources for the local operational environment. You don’t want autonomist freedom ﬁghters working a mission in hypercorp territory, if you can avoid it. The thing for you to remember when you get a new mission is this: you are not the sole focus of the router’s attention. You can’t just trust them to always to give you everything you might want for a mission. If you think you need additional resources or you don’t understand something, you need to speak up when the mission is ﬁrst assigned.
The only dedicated support you can count on during a mission is your assigned vector. They are the best comms specialists in transhumanity; I guarantee. The Planetary Consortium or Jovians would have broken us long ago if we didn’t have the vectors to keep our communications secure. Every active team gets a vector they can contact through specific and secure methods. Whenever you contact your vector through the proper protocols, you can count that the right people will get your message and act on it if necessary. Don’t think of it as a panic button, though. It takes time to send a message through the appropriate channels. The comm protocols vary from mission to mission, but they rarely allow you to contact Firewall in real-time. You usually have to send a message and wait (between minutes and days) to get a reply. This is for your security (though distance lag can also be a hindering factor). If you break protocol and try to contact the vector through outside channels, you can expect to take an i-rep hit for being a dumbass. If the vector says you should only send messages by logging into that free-to-play simulspace game and sending a coded PM to SAUCY_W3nch, then you do just that. If you break protocol and try something else, it’s best to assume that other parties may be listening in.
Our vectors are especially skilled at running counter-intrusion on our communications. It might be tempting to break comm silence and to ask one of the organization’s hot-shot intrusion specialists to make your job easier for you. I can’t stress this enough: resist this urge. Like routers, vectors have a full plate of responsibilities that go beyond interactions with an individual sentinel. They’re running simultaneous hacks against polity surveillance software, news organizations, and suspected enemy forces, all whilst connecting your calls. They don’t have time to help you take the DRM off a fabber. Vectors are responsible for getting your reports where they need to be and erasing Firewall’s digital presence after we’re done. The actual success of the operation is entirely up to the sentinels, whether the mission requires hacking or not.
All of the mission coordination and comms setup happens before you’re even briefed. Firewall is a well-oiled engine of espionage, after all. By now, you should know the drill. You get a message asking if you’d like to go to the doctor (or whatever code your router gave you), you report in, you get briefed and backed up. We maintain our own backup servers and they are a secure as we can make them—I’ve seen oligarch vaults with less protection. Some sentinels prefer to make a backup with their regular provider; each server tends to have different policies regarding this. Many view it as a potential risk (backup providers are less secure than we are, and if the sentinel is outed, it can mean trouble), others encourage redundancy, just in case.
The brieﬁng will include your cover, as provided by our vectors (often with the aid of registers and ﬁlters). Identity is quite ﬂuid in this day and age, but it isn’t totally ﬂexible. Our specialists will do their best, but they’re limited in terms of resources as well. Firewall isn’t made of fake IDs, after all. Vectors can’t prepare for every possible operation theater. Sometimes, despite best efforts, your acting skills are going to be put through a potentially deadly audition. You’ll understand what I mean when you’re given a disagreeable cover identity that forces you to act in a way contrary to your beliefs.
Don’t give me that cynical eye roll either. Sentinels tend towards hardcases that think they can handle anything, but everyone has their limits. Even scum swarm members squirm when they go undercover as soul trafﬁckers.
We try to match cover identities with sentinels in mind because they’re more likely to work, but that isn’t always an option. We don’t send you into safe or sane corners of the universe. If you’re tasked to inﬁltrate a Hidden Concern operation, you’ll have to go in sleeved as an octomorph, regardless of your personal background. Now, we might not send a Jovian to do that because psychotic breakdowns aren’t exactly helpful, but any lesser complaints will be ignored. You might have an option to use a cover identity you’ve developed in previous missions. Many sentinels spend a lot of their downtime creating their own covers, which isn’t a bad habit in our line of work. If you can, try to volunteer your own cover if it’s a better ﬁt for the mission. Everyone benefits from that kind of cooperation.
Securing Necessary Resources
Registers, routers, and vectors work together to secure the resources for a mission. The registers focus on the logistical aspects, but everyone has to help out with procurement. To be honest, we do a lot of creative accounting through our front organizations to build up credits in the inner system and rep in the outer system. I can’t get into our funding in detail, but as a secret paramilitary organization that operates illegally in many jurisdictions, you can assume we cut corners when we can. A lot of our inner system agents complain about the minimal equipment we give them, but that’s what fabbers and blueprints are for. Ask your vector for gear blueprints if you absolutely need something you can’t locally source. Our most valuable resources aren’t our guns, bots, morphs, or tactical nukes though—it’s our network. Whatever resources you get should be viewed as a bonus to the essential intel and favors provided through the Eye. Of course, these intangible assets don’t matter as much when you’re gunning down exsurgent-infected colonists on a gatecrashing gig, so we should talk about proper resource utilization in Firewall for a bit.
Gear should be viewed as expendable. Most of the time, you have to ditch your gear after a mission anyway. We don’t want a weapon used in a wetwork job traced to another sentinel down the line. This is not an invitation to waste or resell Firewall-assigned equipment though. You are not here to make an extra bit of credit or rep on the side. Most of the equipment you get from us is produced by illegally modiﬁed fabbers. DRM is counter-productive to our needs. Any item you can’t account for becomes a liability to the organization. Oversight agents have shut down operations by tracing discarded equipment to its original fabber. Disassemble or space gear after use, but only when you are sure it’s no longer necessary. Morphs are an exception to this rule though. Even we can’t afford to space morphs after a mission, except under dire circumstances.
We have to work within the constraints of the local operational environment, which means we do not usually maintain infrastructure like body banks. That’s hard to hide, even in the outer system. Some of our teams maintain their own facilities, but those are usually specialized groups like erasers or some of our gatecrashing teams. The average sentinel either uses their own morph or a morph from a commercial body bank for missions that require farcasting. Routers try to procure morphs suited for the job, but time and the local morph economy ultimately determine what sentinels will have for the mission. Sentinels can request specialized morphs, but you will be very lucky to get exactly what you want. Many sentinels prefer to make their own arrangements when resleeving.
It’s easy for newbie sentinels to think agents who don’t need to farcast for missions have it easy: they can use their own personal morph, right?. This attitude disappears after the ﬁrst mission. If you haven’t been gut shot or infected by an exsurgent virus, you’ll still be paranoid about leaving behind trace evidence. Even synthmorphs leave behind forensic clues that can be tied to a make and model.
It’s also hard to explain certain incongruities like new implants or odd scars to people in your civilian life. Most hypercorp workers do not need military grade nanoware, after all. Maintaining a secondary morph solely for Firewall missions in a home habitat solves those problems. Talk to your router about it between missions if you’re interested in the option. Most agents who go this route use a cheap model like a splicer or case for their civilian life and then heavily invest in their Firewall morph. Keeping a single morph in good condition isn’t too hard, especially for synthmorphs. Rent storage space under an assumed identity and stash it there until activation.
Preparation for farcasting missions is more difﬁcult, but good sentinels can still make arrangements ahead of time. Ask favors from local sentinels to help you ﬁnd or modify the morph you want. It’s better to spend some rep getting a good morph than trying to hoard it for later use in the mission. Some routers hate it when sentinels go around them, but you’re the one who’s going into harm’s way. If you know you will be sent into a given area, you might invest in a morph to store in a body bank ahead of time. This especially applies to sentinels working in the outer system. You do not want to try to pull off a hard breach of a remote brinker habitat with a shitty hibernoid or case. I would advise renting the morph out when off-site to make up for invested rep and credit. If it’s unavailable for a last minute mission, you’ll still have whatever the router can scrounge up for you.
After a mission, you may need to get rid of the morph. Spacing it is an option, but selling it may be better. A new morph owner creates a false lead for potential adversaries so that they lose invaluable time and resources chasing a dead end instead of you. Your conscience will probably be bothered at the prospect of setting up some poor hypercorp wage slave, so I advise selling it to a criminal syndicate like Los Ghouls, Nine Lives, or Pax Familae. They use good tradecraft, so they drag out a false lead. Plus, pitting two of our enemies against each other is always a bonus. If you lack the savvy to set up that kind of deal, offer the morph on the Eye. Other sentinels can dispose of it for you or ﬁnd a better use for the morph.
As I mentioned earlier, you may want to set up a place to stash a dedicated Firewall morph, so you might as well also use it to store additional equipment. Fabbers and makers can only create so much gear. Exotic items like quantum-entangled communicators cannot be made on demand. Other gear (like weapons) are restricted or illegal in most jurisdictions, and hacking fabbers to build them is time consuming and risky. For these reasons, it is better to create supply caches. Servers spend a lot of time creating caches for sentinel usage, but it never hurts to create your own stash.
Every cache should be set up by an entirely separate identity unconnected to any other cover you’re using. A generic “Wang Tao” or “John Smith” identity with just enough credits or rep to pay for the storage space is all you need. Make all arrangements over the mesh (via anonymizers) and use disguises when visiting the storage space. This counts for hidden caches built outside habitats as well as ones set up inside. Even if you’re a clever engineer who’s cutting out a hollow space inside an asteroid somewhere in the Belt, you still had to buy fuel and materials to build it. Do not forget security either. If you have the skills to rig sensors, alarms, traps, and self-destruct systems, you should go for it. If you do not, ask on the Eye for advice. Some agents have uploaded detailed plans and schematics for cache layouts. I would avoid going overboard though. It is tempting to build your cache as far away as possible and arm it with enough defense systems to make it a bunker, but that is missing the point. A cache is a disposable asset, ideally only used once. Do not get too invested in it.
Supply caches should never become a liability to you or Firewall. No matter how valuable the equipment is or how rare it is, you have to be able to walk away from it. Nor should its contents ever be used against you if it is captured by enemy agents. If there is incriminating evidence or something you would risk your life to retrieve, it does not belong in a Firewall supply cache. You have no way of knowing how much time will pass between the creation and usage of the cache. It could be weeks or it could be years. Our enemies are clever and skilled. Any security you install could be subverted. Any countermeasure could be compromised. If there is even a hint that the cache has been found by the enemy, you have to walk away. The lure of shiny plasma riﬂes and reaper morphs has trapped more than one sentinel. No tool is worth risking your stack falling into Ozma’s hands. Once you go on enough missions, you will see the best tools are not guns or bombs, but other people.
# Start Æther Jabber #
# Active Members: 3 #
< Z1: The work of a register is never done.
V X3: Oh? Still not done? I can send a beta fork to help with the grunt work.
< Z1: No, it’s not that. There aren’t that many scratch spaces in New Shanghai. The security audit is already done.
> Q2: Scratch spaces?
V X3: Oh right, you’re new. That’s what we call our temporary storage facilities and caches.
< Z1: Not so temporary.
V X3: What do you mean?
< Z1: The external security of the scratch spaces was ﬁne but the inventory revealed a lot of leftovers from old missions. Some items were dated back to right before the Fall.
V X3: Shit. I didn’t realize it was that bad.
> Q2: I’m sure a few old weapons or tools sitting in storage aren’t so bad.
V X3: We use them to store things recovered during missions. Weird things. Unidentiﬁed things. They’re supposed to be moved to appropriate facilities when possible though.
< Z1: Yeah, that didn’t happen. Check out this partial list.
> Q2: Half of these just say “Unidentiﬁed object—unknown provenance—mission referrer data missing”
< Z1: Did you look at the readings I got from them?
V X3: The hell is that?
> Q2: Object #1389 has got to be TITAN tech.
< Z1: They’re all inert as far as I can tell. But we need to clean house and soon.
> Q2: With who? The entire server is on assignment or recovering from a prior op.
V X3: I recognize the tag on #6572—that means it was taken out of the Fissure Gate.
< Z1: We’re on Mars. How did it get here? And why?
That probably sounded a bit too sociopathic for your liking, but this line of work requires manipulating others to do what you want. The need for reliable contacts and allies is essential. Unlike morphs or comm systems, you should not rely on Firewall to provide these to you. Allies that only you know about will be necessary if other agents in your team (including, say, a router or vector) are compromised by the enemy.
As I have mentioned several times, the Eye is an invaluable tool for building a personal network. Make friends with other sentinels during your downtime. You would be surprised at how much socialization goes on in there. Proxies try to discourage it, but chatter is inevitable. It is easier to relate to other agents who understand your position and can sympathize with your problems. You can also get a second opinion about the decision-making capabilities of your router or proxy. If you think the people above you made a bad call, better to contact someone on the Eye. Unfortunately, the other members of the Eye can be less-than-reliable at times. Your new friends have to go on missions of their own and may be unavailable for a long time. We’re also widely scattered around the solar system, so they are seldom in position to help out in a crisis. In other words, do not neglect the rest of transhumanity when looking for allies.
A good ally is trustworthy, predictable, and controllable. This is not to say they must be boring hypercorp drones or mindless ultimate thugs. Even a ﬂighty scum swarm drug dealer can be a good ally if you know how she will act in a crisis and when she is lying to you. Cultivate them by doing them favors on your off time. Some sentinels try to build up blackmail fodder while others prefer to earn their trust by ﬁnding allies who support our mission. Use the approach that works best for you. While you should be friendly towards them, don’t think of them as friends. Like supply caches, they are best used infrequently. Any time you use an ally in a Firewall mission, you put them at risk and you might have to disappear from their life forever. Getting too attached to an ally is a serious mistake. It is hard work building up enough trust with someone, so trying to hold onto an ally after you’ve burned them one too many times is understandable. If you want to avoid that kind of scene, use deniable assets like mercenaries.
Sometimes you want an ally, other times you just need a hired gun. Allies are better for soft favors like providing a hideout or researching something. Taking down a triad gang or hacking a secure vault is better handled by professionals. Mercenaries and freelancers can provide much needed ﬁrepower and expertise, but using them while maintaining operational security is easier said than done. You not only need the requisite credits to hire them, but a plausible cover story about why you need their services. It is never permissible to admit Firewall’s existence to a mercenary, who by the nature of their profession is inherently untrustworthy. Mercenaries are paranoid, so a good cover story is essential. If they discover the real reason why you need help, they may sell you out to Oversight or worse.
The best cover story is an unremarkable one that raises no questions about the job. Posing as an ego hunter or skip tracer can work wonders if you can pull it off. They are frequent customers of mercenary services, ranging from hacking to tactical assaults. It is not recommended if you’re not a good liar or don’t have actual expertise in that profession, though. Infosec specialists can be fooled with any number of stories, simply because so many people call on their services. Everyone from jilted lovers to ambitious hypercorp workers could have a good motive to hack into a secure system. Many of them, however, take the time to double-check their client’s story online, so make sure you’re covered.
Mercenaries, ultimates, and other grunts are harder to fool, however. Despite their bravado, they can be quite cautious when it comes to taking jobs. After all, they risk resleeving every time they go to work. As a result, anyone hiring a merc can expect a background check of sorts. The more dangerous and complex the job is, the more they will check you out. You need to create a simple narrative that reinforces their own beliefs. Tell the ultimates you want those brinker cultists dead because you hate their religion, not because an exhuman terrorist is hiding among them. Mercs and security contractors ﬁnd proﬁt-based motives more understandable than altruism (especially of the preventing existential threats kind). Give them a reason to believe there’s money to be made killing exsurgents.
Even though they may betray you, do not treat mercenaries as cannon fodder. Sometimes it may be unavoidable, but a freelancer who does their job and goes home happy is better than a resleeved one who wants answers from their client. If you set a mercenary up, they will look for you later on, and that will cause problems, especially if you leave out crucial intel on their mission. Leave out the part about how the brinker cultists are infected with the exsurgent virus and you can expect payback. If you are lucky, they will burn the cover identity you used to hire them. The worst-case scenario involves them ﬁnding out about your involvement with Firewall. If they get killed on a mission, send them a big bonus to keep them happy.
Try to make the most of what we give you, but learn how to cultivate your own resources for missions. Creativity and innovation in procurement are not only encouraged, but are damn near essential. As I mentioned earlier, carrying blueprints and hacking fabbers is a common method to acquire more gear, but not the only one available to you. Substitution, social engineering (which is to say: lying), trade, larceny, and grave robbing are all opportunities to gain what you need. Each method has its own risks and costs, but if you need something for a mission and can’t get it through us or from a fabber, you will have to try one of them.
It is easy to get caught up in a consumer mindset and believe that only one particular piece of equipment will make or break a mission, but readily available substitutes can work just as well. A diamond ax is a better choice for taking down a lightly armed target than a plasma weapon because they are easier to acquire and draw less attention from automated sensor systems. Triggering a hull breach, though overkill, is as effective as any grenade and half as traceable. For military targets, think of lateral solutions like running a false ﬂag operation on them. The Direct Action ﬁre team may be too much for you, but a bit of creative infosec can give the local triads reason to believe the mercs are moving in on their territory. Failing that, many problems can be solved with creative and liberal usage of high explosives or disassembler nanoswarms. Personally, I’m partial to mining charges.
Charismatic agents specialize in social engineering, but anyone can be a good liar. It is possible to convince anyone to give you anything, if you just know the right approach. Most of the time, you will not have the time to ﬁgure out that approach, but everyone has their own psychological blind spots and weaknesses. The best lies are simple and raise no questions. A good story reinforces the beliefs of the target and misdirects them. An autonomist can be swayed with a convincing tale of woe or oppression at the hands of Jovian assholes and hypercorp executive types always want to impress their peers. Use those motivations to persuade the target that their goals will be fulﬁlled if they give you whatever item or favor you want from them. If you’ve pitched the right idea to them, they will convince themselves. However, if outright lying doesn’t work, you can always try to trade with the target.
Trading is another word for bribery in many jurisdictions, but even the most fanatical brinker zealot is amenable to certain trades under the right circumstances. Information about enemies of the target and recreational contraband are usually safe bets as offers. As with mercenaries, invent a cover story for why you need something from them and then offer the trade. Many Firewall agents spend a lot of time discussing what works best for bribes in various jurisdictions. Jovians crave illegal media (especially porn) while scum swarm members love inside gossip about inner-system celebrities and politicians (though they won’t admit it). Finding trade goods can be easier than acquiring equipment or getting favors directly, so keep it in mind.
Theft is also a popular but dangerous tactic. Even autonomist habitats have customs about shared tool usage and circumventing them is viewed as theft. We do not have time to go over proper burglary techniques in this session, but if you already know how, then I recommend stealing when possible. It is a risk, but you’re always at risk during a mission; the trick is weighing it against a reward. A higher risk of being stopped by local law enforcement in exchange for a lower risk of exsurgent infection is usually an acceptable trade-off. For the record, Firewall does recommend looting the morphs of dead combatants when applicable. Obviously, targets infected with the exsurgent virus should not be touched, but most thugs and security guards should be ﬁne to loot. Weapons almost always have security systems, but they can be hacked. Just be careful of shock grips and other traps when you pick them up.
Many times, using a combination of these techniques will lead to better results. Bribe someone to look the other way so you can steal an item that is a substitute for another piece of equipment. It is best to think of the ultimate goal you want and then work backwards to your current position. If you want a plasma riﬂe that is stored in the security ofﬁcer’s locker, determine what security measures are there to keep you from stealing it and how they can be circumvented. The other guards can be distracted by bribing a local triad to start a ﬁght in the cafeteria. The alarms can be disabled by reprogramming that engineer nanoswarm you got from the local fabber. The infomorph security monitor can be tricked by impersonating an internal security auditor prone to give every helpful employee a promotion. You get the idea. Equipment acquisition can become a mission onto itself, so try not to let it eclipse the real reason why you’re in the ﬁeld. Did you really need that plasma riﬂe in the ﬁrst place, or could you have used an engineer nanoswarm to sabotage life support and door locks in the target’s personal quarters instead?
Not every mission can be completed by the initial team. Backup is available in the form of our erasure squads. They are our dedicated tactical ﬁre teams and each squad is a formidable military presence. Erasers are some of the most dedicated and experienced warriors in the history of our species. While the ultimates pride themselves on their martial prowess, they do not regularly pick ﬁghts with TITAN war machines, exsurgent-infected terrorists, and other existential threats. The erasure squads are expected to ﬁght anywhere in the galaxy at any given time.
They are trained to ﬁght equally well on the surface of Mercury as they are in the Oort Cloud. Of course, some hot zones and high-value theaters (like heavily populated habs) have standby teams, ready to deploy at any given time. However, they are still bound by the same limitations as the rest of us, namely our resources and need for complete deniability. They are not miracle workers.
Even though you are on the front lines and risking the most, you do not get to decide if an erasure squad is sent in or not. At best, you can ask for one through the vector. The request is then sent up to the router. Routers are usually authorized to make the call, but their ass is also on the line if everything goes nova, so if they have the time they’ll take it to a proxy vote ﬁrst. When making the request, take the time to give a persuasive argument about sending our big guns in, backed up with evidence supporting your claims. If you don’t have time to make a proper request, it’s too late anyway, which brings me to my next point.
If there are hints in advance that an operation may require the heavy hitters, your router may have them on standby, but don’t count on it. In most cases, erasure squads need time to prepare before a mission. They almost always have to farcast in, which means resleeving and arming up. They also need time to plan for their mission. They seldom run in, guns blazing, except when there is absolutely no other choice. An assault on a hardened bunker inside an asteroid in deep space can take weeks of planning and simulspace training to execute. Some erasure squads do not work with sentinels, though, in order to enhance operational security. Many times, the router will request your help to accommodate the squad’s arrival. Don’t be offended if the squad only asks for you to get out of the way when they come in.
Every proxy uses their own standards when it comes to the proper utilization of erasers. Lone erasers can be precise and quiet, but they often lack the punch to take out a major threat the way an entire erasure squad might. Given their reputation for wide-scale destruction, some are reluctant to send erasers on any missions that require ﬁnesse. Rescue missions and operations in high population areas can be hard to clear with some proxies. Even clear-cut missions such as extermination runs on exhumans or exsurgents can be mishandled. Make no mistake: erasure squads pack heavy ﬁrepower and phrases like “collateral damage” and “acceptable losses” are common descriptions in their after-mission reports. Even the most sensitive proxy will green-light desperate missions in the right circumstances, of course. We will not allow another Fall.
A number of variables are used by routers to allocate resources to sentinels in the ﬁeld. Similar factors are analyzed by proxies in after-action reports. These debriefs provide invaluable data points for scanner algorithms and play a large role in establishing a sentinel’s i-rep. In short, expect Firewall to grade your work. The opinions of peers can have immediate consequences during an operation and inform the decisions of routers coordinating future missions. So we need to talk about the rubric by which sentinel performance is judged and give some advice for adhering to best practices.
Though everyone is eventually held accountable, I should note that a sentinel’s autonomy while on a mission is nearly total. The hierarchal structure and public accountability of traditional intelligence organizations limits their operations in reach, scope, and speed. Many an Oversight auditor would rather watch a habitat get disassembled into grey goo before acting without a supervisor’s approval. Firewall can’t afford such restrictions. Sentinels are selected precisely for their ability to read situations and take action quickly. They are often the ﬁrst people to see the big picture, and their strategy for dealing with threats almost always goes unquestioned during an operation. Even Firewall resources, though ostensibly the responsibility of routers and other proxies, are dispensed based on the information the sentinel provides … or doesn’t provide. You are a chokepoint in the ﬂow of active intelligence. It’s a role that holds a lot of power. Just don’t expect to get away with abusing it for long.
The mixture of autonomy and accountability a sentinel must weigh when considering the following mission factors is best described by an old Earth saying: “We’re giving you enough rope with which to hang yourself.”
When Missions Fail
Standing by …
You are now connected to Chat-Anon
Sentinel1: Hello? Please respond.
Vector: Go ahead.
Sentinel1: It’s over. We’re fucked. They had an async.
Vector: I don’t follow.
Sentinel1: Mary spotted him right before the meet, but by then it was too late. They had him shake hands with Chan to “seal the deal.” Fuckers.
Vector: I see. So the async saw through your cover?
Sentinel1: Yeah, they jumped Mary and Chan a second later. I had the drones open ﬁre, but it wasn’t enough.
Vector: Did you destroy the package?
Sentinel1: I activated the swarms, but I think they had guardians set up. I don’t know. Last I saw, it was still intact.
Vector: Are you safe?
Sentinel1: Yeah, I was a few kilometers out, jamming in one of the drones. I bugged out as soon as I lost contact.
Vector: Please stand by.
17 minutes later
Vector: I’ve relayed your message to the router. We’re scrubbing the mission. Proceed to the agreed-upon farcasting facility.
Sentinel1: What? We still have time to stop them.
Vector: Given their past behavior, they will likely have reinforced their security by the time we can place new operatives there.
Sentinel1: Then transfer me as many credits as you can. I can build a drone strike force in a day, but I need to buy the raw materials for the fabber.
Vector: No, you are to come in for debrieﬁng. We cannot risk losing you.
Sentinel1: I can backup and send it to you before I go in. I have my kill switch installed so they won’t get my stack. We can’t let these fuckers get away with it!
Vector: If you attack and fail, they’ll go to ground. You know that, right?
Sentinel1: THEY HAVE THE PACKAGE!
Vector: You are the only one who is still able to give us any kind of insight. If we are going to stop them, you need to come in.
Sentinel1: What the fuck? This is our job. We’re supposed to keep ﬁghting, no matter what.
Vector: We have the big picture in mind. You don’t. Lose a battle, win the war.
Sentinel1: What are they going to do with the package?
Vector: It doesn’t matter. Your job is done.
Choosing a Course of Action
Each sentinel’s brief plays a huge role in deciding between remote methods of surveillance and less deniable tactics. Being tasked to upload a worm on a mesh network has a very different parameter for success than a win scenario for wetwork. In instances where methods aren’t detailed by the brief, young agents should know that Firewall always prefers subtlety. The fact that a sentinel was tasked at all is the result of thousands of hours spent collating and analyzing passive intelligence through sophisticated, untraceable electronic surveillance. We like to watch and wait. Always aim for tactics that provide additional opportunities even in instances of failure. For instance, it’s hard for eavesdropping in a crowded Martian souk to go wrong; you either overheard the intel or you didn’t. Breaking into a hypercorp ofﬁce to plant quantum-dot cameras, on the other hand, presents the same risk of mission failure and places the whole organization in jeopardy. Whenever possible, keep things quiet and report in to your router. The proxy servers will run risk/reward analysis and suggest a course of action.
Of course, the entire purpose of sentinels is to remain effective in the ﬁeld despite the absence of command structure. Golden opportunities for intelligence gathering and sabotage often have tight security windows. You might have to make a move without getting feedback from your router. Sadly, in my experience, Firewall is as prone to conﬁrmation bias in these cases as any traditional organization. I subbed in as a router for this ﬁeld operative one time. She stole a courier’s identity, walked through the front airlock of a secure research facility, and picked up the intel like she was running a go-cycle courier service. She did it all right in front of the leader of a singularity seeker terrorist cell. It was a bold move. Her rep on the Eye soared as everyone talked about her “strategic foresight” and “improvisation.” When the package turned out to be an exsurgent trap that wiped out an entire crow research facility, those same agents that were praising her before couldn’t stop talking about how reckless and stupid she’d been.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for judging these things. Your ability to think on your feet is why we’re speaking right now. Always err on the side of caution except in instances of conﬁrmed x-threats or exsurgent activity. In that case, going loud could be the only sane option. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that a well-placed plasma grenade from a quick thinker can save billions of lives. Just be sure to collect enough data to cover your ass in the debrief before you make the switch from spy to exterminator.
Destroy, Contain, or Study
Any sentinel good enough to stay in the ﬁeld is going to come across TITAN artifacts or exsurgent virus carriers eventually. For obvious reasons, how agents handle these elements receives more scrutiny in Firewall after-action reports than anything else. The procedural ﬂowcharts I’ve forwarded you cover this decision process exhaustively. For now, sufﬁce to say that assessment algorithms require the greatest burden of proof for co-optation, then containment, and then destruction. A likely source of danger with known x-threat potential is usually enough to warrant destruction so long as the conspiracy isn’t exposed in the process. Containment is only judged suitable in instances where the threat is conﬁrmed immobile and located far from transhuman population centers. Even then, destruction is typically preferred except in instances where the use of force is more likely to do harm than good. For instance, the White Zones are so cross-contaminated with unclassiﬁed exsurgent infections that the risk of a cascading pandemic event precludes any action to cleanse the territory. It’s better to avoid a hydra than try to cut off all of its heads. Similarly, containment is preferable if destruction would expose the organization. If there’s an exhuman cult on the brink being closely monitored by autonomist killsats, it’s much easier to monitor the feeds and ensure they don’t leave than it is to slip a strike team in unnoticed.
Sometimes it’s better to ﬁght ﬁre with ﬁre, so we occasionally co-opt technology we recover in the ﬁeld. Co-optation is best handled by containing an object or site and giving the crows enough time to study the situation and make a decision. Co-optation of post-singularity or alien technology (or other assets) by sentinels in the ﬁeld is discouraged; odds are they don’t have a full understanding of what it is they’re handling, and the risks are too great. If it’s an option, you should check with your router ﬁrst. There are very strong and mixed opinions within Firewall on how to tackle situations like this, and their response may well depend on the factional ideology to which they adhere.
So how do you know what protocol is best? The standard Destroy, Contain, or Study (DCS) test is a good place to start. It’s a set of assessments to quickly determine the optimal action to take with a particular technology. Mission variables mean that even that protocol cannot be applied with 100% consistency. The unhelpful answer is that you should learn the politics of your proxy. Vaporizing a dud TITAN missile lodged in an uninhabited Luna crater is as likely to receive a commendation as a reprimand, depending on whether a pragmatist or conservative writes the after-action report. In my opinion, if nobody had to get resleeved, you made the right choice. Put transhuman life ﬁrst, make a decision, and live with the consequences. Plenty of peers in the organization know ﬁrst-hand about the snap decisions required on a mission. They’ll back most sentinels even if an op goes bad. The consequences of a bad call are usually punishment enough anyway.
When I was ﬁrst recruited, my server had me sim some actual XP from Firewall ops—the kind of ops where every option was a bad one. They then ran me through some ops simulations. During the brieﬁngs on these sims, all I could do was worry about worst-case, no-win scenarios. You know, the hard choices. Could I order an orbital strike on a hab? Could I call in an erasure squad, knowing they would cleanse a facility of life? It ate me up inside, and I suppose that’s why Firewall wanted me. They only recruit psychopaths for a few niche positions. Most of us are here in part because we have a conscience, regardless of what the job may end up doing to it.
As a sentinel, you should know that you are not expected to make that call on your own. If containment is no longer an option—an exsurgent strain reaches exponential ampliﬁcation, a TITAN takes control of major infrastructure, etc.—a sentinel’s ﬁrst and only priority is to get as much intel off site as possible. Get it to the router, and they’ll make the call—or better yet, if there’s time, they’ll call a vote within the server. It’s imperative that they have all the relevant information to make an informed call, while preparing erasure squads and the ﬁlters needed to cover their tracks. If trapped in a full-blown outbreak, you might live or die based on the router’s decision, but at least the other casualties won’t rest entirely on your conscience.
Though sentinels lack the clearance to order extreme quarantine actions, it would be a lie to say they don’t carry some responsibility after operations escalate into extremes. There may not be enough time to blind peer-review mission data and make recommendations according to protocol. When seconds matter, a proxy might call for an immediate go/no-go assessment. Sentinels are the experts on-site, and their judgment may have to do in a pinch.
If the proxies can’t be reached, there’s not enough time given the signal lag, or every second means more deaths—then it’s up to you, my friend. I don’t envy you if you ever ﬁnd yourself in this situation. Dodging the horrors of the Fall reborn makes objective, dispassionate decision making nearly impossible, but that is exactly what will be required of you. Just remember, you wouldn’t even know we existed if we didn’t think you were capable of making the right choice.
Firewall has many partners in the ﬁght for transhumanity. The key is making sure those partners think they’re ﬁghting alone. The powers-that-be on a mission site can certainly pose a risk to operations, but it would be a mistake to neglect local authorities as a ﬁeld asset.
Firewall demands complete deniability. A sentinel’s work is 95% avoiding detection. If local authorities get involved, situations often get messy. Their investigations might lead them to stumble onto things that are best kept quiet, or worse they may put other lives at risk. Even friendly anarchist militias can interfere with an op, and other groups may well pose a threat to Firewall itself. Outﬁts like the Jovians or Oversight do not react kindly when they learn of active sentinels in their theater. There’s no amount of training to prepare you for the torture software they use to scour a captured ego for intelligence. That’s not even the worst-case scenario: security forces might be co-opted by an exsurgent threat or actively seeking to proﬁt from a TITAN artifact.
The risks of discovery mean secondary and tertiary identities are a must for ﬁeld agents. Have disguises, escape routes, and contingency plans in place. This way, even if you have to play your hand and come out of the shadows on an op, you can keep the authorities from ﬁguring out who you are. Better yet, plant some leads that point them towards other groups. It’s often better to have the local police thinking they were dealing with criminal involvement or even a hypercorp black ops team, instead of having them wonder what this new group of well-armed operatives was about.
The advantage to operating completely off their radar is that you can use the locals to your advantage. If they’re following the same leads you are, you can surveil them to see what angles of investigation they cover ﬁrst. There’s no need to acquire the gear to perform your own forensic analysis of a crime scene when you can just hack the ofﬁcial report.
Tipping Them Off
Though sentinels must fear discovery, more often than not our interests align with local authorities. Most habitats don’t desire extinction any more than Firewall does. In these instances, a good spoofing software and an anonymous tip can put military force at the disposal of an otherwise over-matched sentinel. This isn’t recommended in instances where the threat’s transmission vector or full capabilities aren’t completely understood. Raids by unprepared security forces might just speed the rate of infection or get a lot of people killed. For fully-assessed targets, however, local authorities provide a good mixture of ﬁrepower and deniability. Furthermore, a failed raid by security forces lets the enemy know only that transhumanity is defending itself in general. Options remain open. A sentinel team that gets wiped out and uploaded, on the other hand, puts all of Firewall at risk.
This might sound familiar. Sentinels are urged to keep track of any locals that cope exceptionally well with chaotic situations, especially those relating to the exsurgent virus, TITANS, and x-threats. The most common way Firewall discovers these individuals is when sentinels manipulate local factions to their own ends. That job last year? The one out in the zone? The agent responsible for putting you out there had you tapped for recruitment before you even got out of that healing vat. Don’t ask for a name. I don’t know.
I understand. It’s a shitty deal when you’re just trying to live your life. But I meant it when I said that you’ll come to understand why you’re needed and necessary—probably sooner than you’d like. I suggest ﬁling away what you’re feeling right now and saving it for the day you start tagging plucky so-and-sos from your ops and notifying HR. Can Firewall survive without them, or is it worth lashing that person’s life to a greater cause?
We much prefer info stealing. Yet, too often, sentinels ﬁnd themselves in situations where we need intel only local authorities can provide. Digital intrusion and black bag jobs are risky even for experts. Brokering a trade—or “swapping spit,” as spies used to call it on Earth—can be safer, but not by much. The more likely a government is to jealously guard life-saving information, the more likely they are to be hostile to Firewall. Still, the organization comes across a lot of “junk” secrets unrelated to the cause that most inner-system polities would nonetheless kill for. Intelligence that restructures a hypercorp or sees a Jovian coup of an autonomist habitat may be worth giving up in exchange for secrets that keep transhumanity from going extinct.
When brokering deals, consult with your router before contacting the authorities. They’ll need to task ﬁlters and vectors to comb the Eye’s databases for information commodities that are confirmed 100% unrelated to x-threats and promise value to the target. If the deal’s approved, the sentinel will be provided a scrubbed version of the ﬁles with all traces of how Firewall came into possession of them eliminated. Then comes the hard part. Firewall demands complete deniability. It’s not enough to assure there isn’t enough evidence for a court; we can’t be known to exist. This means any information sharing deals have to be done under false pretenses, the sentinel operating through cut-out assets or an identity that would plausibly hold the secrets and need the information requested for the trade. Composing a legend that cuts so close to Firewall’s interests while keeping the conspiracy hidden requires true craft and no small amount of gall. When it’s discovered clandestine deals are arranged under false pretenses, morphs tend to get shot and egos thrown in psychosurgery interrogation suites. So make sure you have your emotional dampers on before you try it, newbie.
As with everything else, necessity might render proper protocol a luxury you can’t afford. Maybe intel obtained on-site is what the authorities want and there’s no time to scrub Firewall’s prints of the package. Maybe you want to ignore my advice and actually trust some security ofﬁcial to have transhumanity’s best interests at heart. Even if it doesn’t get you killed, be aware that there’s no such thing as a protected source in Firewall. If you come under a server audit and the proxies ﬁnd it necessary, they’re going to source that intel even if it means cutting it out of you.
The rule for handling TITAN, xenoarcheological, and exsurgent artifacts is simple: don’t. Avoid even passive contact (sight, sound, etc.) with suspicious technology, objects, and substances. The primary task of a sentinel is to make sure others do the same until crows or disposal teams can be dispatched. Of course, sentinels exist to do whatever is necessary as soon as it is necessary. You might be put into a situation where understanding an artifact is vital to mission success or moving locations is the only way to effectively quarantine. What follows are the summarized protocols for such situations. Keep in mind that these are greatly simpliﬁed procedures for quick reference. Crows spend their entire lives and massive budgets studying dangerous materials safely. Conducting studies in the ﬁeld is the equivalent of trying to disarm a bomb with a hammer.
Every sentinel’s top priority when encountering new artifacts is quarantine. This procedure is similar to the preparation of crime scenes for analysis. Take care to avoid moving anything, especially the object. Its location and orientation may contain valuable clues. However, leaving the artifact where it lies may not be an option if the area is in a high trafﬁc zone. If the object is portable, transportation should ideally be performed in a faraday suit and through means that minimize contact with other transhumans as much as possible. Furthermore, the agent in charge of moving the artifact should be prepared to undergo extensive quarantine procedures, up to and including abandoning the current morph and resleeving from backup.
If the artifact can’t be moved and/or the site can potentially be controlled, limiting access is key. Tap any available resources to redirect transhuman trafﬁc from the site. Subverting or tricking surveillance is equally important and may involve diverting patrols, retasking satellites, or disguising against drone sensors across multiple spectrums. The object should be kept from view, interaction with mesh signals, and contact with the exterior atmosphere. A sealed faraday cage is ideal, but agents in the past have had to make do with as little as a sheet of fabric. Something as simple as putting a bag over it can reduce the risk of transferring airborne biological and digital strains of the exsurgent virus, while also disrupting possible basilisk and YGBM mind hacks. The object should not go completely unobserved. Establish video surveillance using a ﬁberoptic camera, feeding into the quarantine zone via hard-link connection wired into the lowest-resolution display possible. Sophisticated visual and auditory basilisks require the pixel ratio of modern technology to work effectively through digital video. The implementation of archaic technologies allows for dangerous visual phenomenon to remain monitored without risking the observer’s mind.
Once isolation is achieved, monitoring those that come in contact with the object is the next task. Establish video and audio surveillance around the site, using a secure, hardwired network. Carefully log any fellow agents that have contact with the object and back up these lists off-site. In the event of an exsurgent outbreak, it’s vital for response teams to ﬁnd all individuals who came in contact with the transmission vector as quickly as possible. Needless to say, the quarantine site should be guarded at all costs. The easiest way to remember what to do in a quarantine situation is to ask yourself: what would a Jovian do? If you eliminate “nuke everything” and “perform a hate crime” from the possible answers, the remainder makes for a nice to-do list of sufﬁciently paranoid countermeasures.
The list of variables that factor into a true Destroy/Contain/Study assessment are exhaustive. In the ﬁeld, we make do with a simpliﬁed version of the CDC biosafety classiﬁcations, revised and expanded just before the organization’s destruction in the Fall. These classiﬁcations correspond to our designated threat-levels and share the same recommended actions. I’ll let you read for yourself. My recruiter was prone to a mnemonic device: “Four or below? Just take it slow. Above and odd? Find the escape pod.”
Black-1: Completely inanimate. Origins can be reasonably hypothesized. Multiple transhumans of varying morphs were exposed before containment with no recognizable effect. The purpose and effect of the artifact are demonstrably benign or remain inscrutable. Containment and extraction to a secure Firewall research facility recommended.
Blue-2: Biological. Origins likely reproducible in a lab setting. Effects may be deleterious to transhuman health but are conﬁrmed non-infectious and dependent upon direct exposure. Reasonable to infer that the intentions of the creator didn’t include weaponization. Containment secure and all exposed individuals known to Firewall. Recommend securing site until crows can be dispatched for direct study or removal to a secure location.
Green-3: Biological or possibly xenobiological. Origins possibly evolutionary or weaponized. Demonstrates lethal effects to transhuman health and/or possesses high potential for lethality. Infectious nature unknown. Containment meets lab standards and all exposed individuals are accounted for in quarantine. Recommend securing site until crows can be dispatched for direct study or removal to a secure location.
Yellow-4: Biological or xenobiological. Origins evolutionary or weaponized. Demonstrates lethal effects to transhuman health. Infectious nature conﬁrmed and deemed capable of aerosol transmission and/or mutation. Containment meets lab standards and all exposed individuals detained in equivalent quarantine or conﬁrmed purged of morph. Recommend securing site until crows can be dispatched for direct study. Removal is likely to constitute WMD smuggling and deemed a risk to opsec. Destroy on site if simulspace feasibility tests on lengthy containment fail a 90% probability of success.
Orange-5: Biological, xenobiological, or nanotechnological. Origins assuredly evolutionary or weaponized. Target/object possesses means of locomotion and/or signs of intelligence. Demonstrates lethal effects to transhuman health or the potential thereof. Infectious nature conﬁrmed or uncertain. Containment uncertain due to the possibility of interference from the object/target. Recommend destruction. Collect samples after-action only if equipped with lab-standard atmospheric segregation and cold storage tools.
Red-6: Nanotechnological. Origins unknown. Exhibits behaviors and characteristics of known strains established post-Fall. Target/object reactive against containment but displaying no markers of self-sustaining femtotech. Lethality and infection assumed. Containment includes total atmospheric and mesh isolation, including vacuum and electromagnetic caging to prevent cloud locomotion. Exposed individuals purged of morph, and sentinels responsible kept in quarantine after desleeving. Containment dependent upon organization’s ability to set up a full research station on site. Any breach or possible breach of containment upgrades threshold to Magenta-7.
Magenta-7: Nanotechnological. Origins unknown. Exhibits behaviors or characteristics of known strains established post-Fall or constitutes new strain. Target/object reactive against containment and/or displays markers for self-sustaining femtotech. Lethality and infection conﬁrmed. Containment not deemed possible. Recommend immediate and total destruction of exposed area and individuals utilizing both plasma and EMP weaponry.
Purple-8: Digital or adaptable medium. Suspected x-threat. Origins unknown. Exhibits behaviors or characteristics of TITAN or ASI manufacture. Psi, cognitive, memetic, and digital transmission capabilities suspected. Lethality and infection assumed but unconﬁrmed. Containment is total, meeting Firewall lab standards. Site is located at least 100 km from nearest transhuman population center, surveillance-free, and mesh isolated. Projections for lengthy containment exceed a 99% success rate. Recommend standing guard until Firewall can establish specialist research base and on-site WMD failsafes. All personnel responsible for initial discovery and contact to be purged of morph and restored from backup after debrief.
White-9: Digital or adaptable medium. Conﬁrmed exsurgent strain. Composition variable. Origins unknown. Exhibits no quantiﬁable behaviors or characteristics of any known manufacture. Psi, cognitive, memetic, and digital transmission capabilities conﬁrmed. Cross-contamination into biological and nanotechnological transmission vectors underway. Lethality and infection ongoing, exponential, and of variable latency. Containment deemed impossible. Recommend destruction with extreme prejudice, up to and including orbital strikes and WMD deployment. All personnel responsible for discovery and contact to be purged of morph and restored from backup without debrief.
Detecting Exsurgent Virus and Threats
This is the main task of a sentinel and the hardest part of your job. It’s also the area in which I have the least to offer you.
The exsurgent virus is adaptive, multi-faceted, and intelligent. Firewall’s opposition against it is more an arms race than outright war, but never imagine that means we share equal footing. The only reason transhumanity has survived this long is because exsurgents are just too good at killing us. A full-blown outbreak can burn through a city like New Mumbai so fast that the virus advertises its presence and ends up stopping its own spread, especially since transhumanity has dispersed itself among the stars. The lethality has bought Firewall time to research and adapt countermeasures, but the virus is learning too. Each generation of exsurgent grows subtler than the last. Even as we learn to ﬁght our incomprehensible enemy, it’s learning to bypass the fragility that has protected our species thus far.
I won’t call the Firewall database of exsurgents useless, but you’re only likely to ﬁnd recognizable strains in the most isolated locales. We suspect repeated outbreaks of the same strain are merely evolutionary throwbacks cut-off from whatever hive intelligence drives the virus onward, and their occurrence grows less frequent every year. Large population centers with numerous, unsecured mesh channels and extensive fabrication capabilities are high-value targets for an exsurgent. It’s these habitats where we ﬁnd a disproportionate number of new strains. In short, it’s testing our defenses: inﬂicting maximum casualties while frustrating our opportunities for intelligence gathering. Statistically, your ﬁrst run-in with the exsurgent virus is likely to be the ﬁrst time that strain has ever been encountered, so I can’t really give hard-and-fast rules for detection. What I will say is that your proxy and your peers know all this. When it comes to the possibility of exsurgents, most Firewall agents are very forgiving of the shoot-ﬁrstask-later philosophy. You’ll know an infection when you see it. Trust your instincts. We do.
The mistake inexperienced sentinels most often make is dismissing other threats to transhumanity. Though outside a single polity’s control, Firewall is far from post-political. The beliefs of our agents and the ideological tendencies of our structure sometimes skews otherwise actionable intelligence. Pragmatist sentinels might consider a seed-AI research project as a necessary step to transhuman survival—at least until we end up with another TITAN on our hands. A maverick could deem the hypercorp destabilization of a gift economy inconsequential, but economic collapse and the resulting conﬂict was the breeding ground in which the exsurgent virus wiped out 95% of our population during the Fall. This is why sentinels typically work in teams and submit their intelligence to diversely staffed proxy servers. Report frequently and consult often to keep ideological blind spots in check. If you’re worried about autonomy, always remember that you’re the ﬁnal arbiter of what actions to take in a mission. Following orders and recommendations can’t be enforced in the ﬁeld, but sentinels shouldn’t be surprised when after-action accountability protocols get more stringent as a result.
Pandora Gate Protocols
We’re getting into the really obscure stuff now. I think it’s a mistake to dump all of this on you in one sitting, but I can’t log the brieﬁng as complete unless we’ve covered everything. Stupid structuralist protocols … Anyway, gatecrashing is really a subject in and of itself. If you’re jumping through wormholes with no more training than our little chat, you’re either crazy or something has gone seriously wrong. Firewall tries to only task sentinels with experience, access, and the necessary skill sets for missions involving the Pandora gates. In short, gate ops offer high risk and high reward. We only task our best and brightest. As far as sentinels go, getting assigned a gate job either means your i-rep has peaked or your router is out of options.
We try to see to it that every agent that goes on gate missions is familiar with basic crasher protocols. Despite the ideological and economic desires that drive much gate exploration, hypercorps like Gatekeeper practice tactics in line with Firewall quarantine requirements. They know what opening a portal to the TITAN’s new playground would mean, and they don’t desire forced uploads any more than we do. This means that the conspiracy’s guidelines for gatecrashing don’t differ much from established doctrine save a few additional priorities.
Organizing a gate hop is a massive undertaking best handled on the server level, but our work means we can never rule out the need for individual action. If for some reason a single cell of sentinels were to fund a gate expedition privately, it’s key to secure a sponsor friendly to the organization with a plausible motivation for spending so lavishly. At the minimum, the sponsor needs to be a deniable asset or someone we can trust with the lives of our agents. If a sentinel were to somehow earn enough funds personally for an inner system hop or enough rep to cut the line at an autonomist gate, the move would be suicide. Spending that much on gate time without a quality legend will send up red ﬂags in every intelligence organization in the system. You might as well send Ozma an invitation. The lottery for ﬁrst-in teams is a better choice if a patron can’t be found. We have subverted the random number generator that chooses lottery teams and can get sentinels on the roster on short notice. The problem with ﬁrst-in teams is that they can’t control where they go. While Firewall loves being the ﬁrst to analyze the potential risks of a new extrasolar destination, being able to target an operation is key to success. Getting on a ﬁrst-in team, smuggling a secondary blue box to the gate, and then heading to another destination has worked in the past. Some of the “never arrived” and “unexpectedly appeared” spook stories ﬂoating around the crasher communities are just our agents peeling off and arriving at mission sites. Not all of them, sadly, but some.
Firewall’s priorities in gatecrashing depend on the type of mission. Threat assessment takes precedence during ﬁrst-in excursions and any other exploration-based mission. Follow first-link protocols to the letter with the one exception of mission recording. A sentinel undercover with an exploration team needs to have enough hacking expertise to subvert the recording gear, the combat skills to sanitize everyone that’s seen too much, and the willpower to trigger a killswitch on their stack. The reason is simple: if a location looks proﬁtable enough, transhuman self-preservation can’t be trusted to triumph over hypercorp greed. Some “lost” expeditions were actually discoveries made by sentinels embedded with ﬁrst-in teams. They spoof some quick, mundane death for the team with a hidden code embedded for handlers back in the system. After sending back the altered recordings, sentinels close the gate, kill or recruit members on site, and wait for Firewall to send a specialist team through back-channel gate connections. More than one of our extrasolar research centers operates at gate coordinates perceived as uninhabitable by inner-system polities.
Colonization and resource exploitation missions make up the majority of our inﬁltration operations out of system. Firewall tries to embed at least one agent in every major outpost we know about. The main goal is to monitor the site for TITAN, exsurgent, exhuman, and xenoarcheological activity, but since large-scale operations are rarely funded until the extrasolar planet is vetted as safe, deep-cover personnel typically end up performing more traditional espionage instead: developing sources, assets, and covers for additional sleeper agents. Gate operators, for instance, are the ﬁrst positions a deep-cover sentinel will try to subvert. The ability to cut-off gate access enables regime change to bring around a new colony administrations aligned with the Firewall agenda and prevents anyone from heading back with data that might subvert an op. Having an operator on board also allows for a fair amount of petty theft. The occasional shipment back to the solar system that goes missing due to gate malfunction? Sometimes that’s just a sleeper agent redirecting the gate coordinates at the last second. How else would we ﬁll our extrasolar resource caches?
Xenoarcheological research sites remain the highest priority of Firewall gate incursions. We cannot allow some exhuman cult or rogue hypercorp to unearth another Fall on the other side of the door. Usually, only the most experienced sentinels are sent on such missions. The stakes are high, resistance ﬁerce, and the assistance far away. Beyond initial threat assessments, research operation inﬁltrations have a few standardized parameters. Establishing a scientiﬁc sentinel team with a plausible cover story on site is the ﬁrst task a sentinel faces. The science pursued in exoplanet locales is some of the most well-funded, experimental, and cutting-edge in transhuman history. Understanding the subject matter is beyond most of our ﬁeld personnel, not to mention identifying hidden dangers. Getting experts on-site is a must.
Sentinels also need to make sure that, even in the event of catastrophe, Firewall gets the intel it needs. We can’t afford more “Croatoan” incidents; if an entire settlement goes missing, we must be certain they aren’t headed towards home and swarming with exsurgent viruses. Subverting surveillance and establishing an off-site, hidden backup for all vital research information is a major priority. The subtlety required for such an operation and the enormous security presence typical of well-funded extrasolar facilities means only our most capable agents are tasked.
In the rarest instances, crows will designate the research being performed at an extrasolar facility too valuable to ignore and too dangerous to allow. In these cases, sentinels in charge of managing dangerous research sites beyond the gate have the unenviable task of smuggling WMDs through the gates. The difﬁculty of sneaking an antimatter bomb through gate security undetected cannot be overstated, but Firewall sometimes deems redundant failsafes necessary. It should be noted that, if the failsafe is ever detected, protocol says it must be detonated immediately. A secondary attempt at sabotage would be too difﬁcult to perform and, as with everything in Firewall, better safe than sorry.
First Contact Protocols
Firewall has dedicated ﬁrst-contact teams made up of eminently qualiﬁed astrobiologists standing by for rapid deployment in case our organization makes ﬁrst contact. If a sentinel is transhumanity’s ﬁrst ambassador to an alien race, it means that we had no idea contacting a new sapient was even a possibility. If fate chooses you, being completely unprepared in no way lessens your responsibility; you’ll still be partly responsible for shaping transhumanity’s future. The gravity of the situation can’t be overstated.
The ﬁrst goal of sentinels making ﬁrst contact with alien sapience is to conceal their true purpose and identity. It’s likely a ﬁeld agent came in contact with an alien presence in the course of a mission, and we can’t assume that the alien is unable to understand our language. We can’t even assume they lack mind-reading capabilities. And we certainly can’t try to silence an alien organism with violence as we would other breaches of operational security. Secrecy, in general, is the watchword for xeno encounters. Isolate and limit other transhuman contact as much as possible. If, by some astronomical chance, communication is possible, speak of transhumanity only in the vaguest terms. Hostility shouldn’t be assumed, but it cannot be ruled out.
Statistically speaking, Firewall’s sentinel protocols for such an event are laughably paranoid. What are the chances that a sentinel would make ﬁrst contact, be able to communicate with the alien, and ﬁnd a creature that somehow gives a damn about our organization, not to mention our species? It’s absurd. There’s always the threat of exsurgent infection or worse, however, so we have the guidelines. Though we plan for hostility and betrayal, confusion is far more likely. The alien might not even be able to perceive a transhuman with its sensory spectrum. It might be as concerned with a transhuman presence as we are with how the cockroaches are faring back on Earth. Divergent evolutionary backgrounds leading to higher-form intelligence mean that even the most simplistic, mathematical communication could fail or be misunderstood.
Thus, Firewall agents get the same advice as any other transhuman in first contact scenarios: say little, withdraw quickly, and bring in experts. The one difference is that sentinels should contact only their router and no one else. Exclusive access to a friendly alien intelligence free from the hypercorp and Ozma interests tainting Factor relations would be an unimaginable boon our organization. Your muse has been provided a code packet that is keyed solely for reporting ﬁrst contact. In the event of a sighting, upload it to the Eye. The code will automatically bump your operation to a higher security classiﬁcation and bring it to the attention of people prepared to handle such contingencies. It is then the sentinel’s task to do absolutely everything possible to keep other transhumans from discovering the alien creatures. If they are a threat, we must protect our species from them, and if they are friends, we must ensure they are Firewall’s friends ﬁrst.
Beware. As little as we know about Factor biology, we know less about their motivations and origins. There’s absolutely no proof that the aliens aren’t TITAN-bioengineered organisms meant to monitor transhumanity for their AI masters. They could be responsible for the exsurgent virus, for all we know. I realize these are extreme and conspiratorial theories, but the fact that they cannot be completely disproved should emphasize the need to treat Factors with caution.
More mundane dangers threaten Firewall/Factor relations. Their limited technological trade has thus far occurred exclusively with inner-system polities run by short-sighted, scarcity economies. The rumors of Ozma involvement can’t be downplayed, and we have entire scanner divisions dedicated to examining possible connections. All of these concerns come before the inherent misunderstandings bound to occur when communicating with a species that literally metabolizes its native language. Do not trust them, and assume the presence of our enemies at any meeting.
Firewall’s priorities when communicating with Factors are the same as much of transhumanity: obtain access to new technology and intelligence. We are particularly interested to learn anything we can about the presumed singularity event that led the species to eschew AI and Pandora gate technology. Obtaining a Factor corpse for dissection would also be a big score, but it’s not worth the risk of provoking an inter-species war.
Care must also be taken to protect transhuman and Factor relations. We still do not know what the Factors are capable of technologically or what resources they have on hand in or near our solar system. All evidence points to the likelihood of a Factor base in the Oort Cloud or the capability to engage in faster-than-light travel that does not involve wormhole gates. For these reasons, we cannot risk alienating the Factors or engaging in hostilities with them—nor can we allow any other transhuman parties to take such risks.
You may have napalmed the exsurgent hive, bagged and tagged the baddies, or safely gotten Alien Relic X to the crow lab, but the operation doesn’t end there. There are also loose ends to tie down, from sanitizing scenes to resleeving your team mates. Firewall prefers assigning specialized personnel to handle a lot of post-mission tasks, but opsec and stafﬁng shortages mean sentinels might be assigned to run deniability and clean-up on their own missions. Your success at navigating these additional duties is included in the peer-reviewed post-op assessment as well—in fact, they may even be weighed more heavily. While it isn’t any fun to pull clean-up after a tough operation, the practice does cut down on the “cowboy syndrome” symptomatic of mavericks. Cover-up as you go and minimize exposure; you never know when you might end up cleaning up your own mess.
Firewall does take care of its own, so you will have support when you return to your life. We go to great lengths in making sure we retrieve our people from hot zones, resleeve them when necessary, and get new IDs to replace burned ones. After all, we have to protect our most valuable assets (that is to say you and every other loyal sentinel) and protect ourselves by trying to limit the number of disgruntled agents. Don’t be timid when it comes to asking for help to reintegrate back into your normal life. This most deﬁnitely applies to aftercare as well as practical issues.
Sadly, post-traumatic stress is a badge of ofﬁce for most Firewall agents. Even crows, routers, and scanners are known to develop long-term mental health problems from the stress of our work. Talking to your muse helps, but it isn’t always enough. We maintain a small and highly trained group of specialists to help agents recover. Simulspace group therapy with other Firewall personnel and psychosurgery performed by trusted experts are popular options for sentinels. Your local server should list options available to you at no cost.
If you get caught, Firewall will try to help you, as long as you maintain operational security. Your router should know how the local legal system works and whether hiring a lawyer, bribing the guards, or planning a jailbreak operation will get the best results. In many jurisdictions, credits or rep speak louder than words, so if you’re lucky you may be bailed out by an anonymous benefactor within the hour. Some polities aren’t so easily bribed, which is where things get more complicated. Trust in Firewall. Our registers will get you out as soon as we can, if it is entirely possible. If you’re a suspected spy or terrorist, then you can usually only expect simulspace interrogations, psychosurgery, and cold storage or deletion. In those cases, if we can’t get you out, we’ll ﬁnd a way to take you out before they get anything from you. Remember, your backup is secure with us, no matter what, so it won’t be the end.
Dead morphs, plasma scorches, server-wiping malware, explosions—transhumans aren’t willing just to let these things go. Deniability operations aren’t so much about covering things up as they are about providing easy answers. Filters and vectors are some of the best-trained operatives in the organization, and the bullshit they manage to sell to the public is scary. These people are ultimately responsible for keeping your ego out of cold storage, so a certain level of deference is expected, but they will accept friendly suggestions from sentinels for which they are covering. If you have moral qualms about some innocent group being blamed for your crimes just because a habitat’s jingoism makes them an easy mark, be sure to provide an alternative scapegoat as soon as possible. Filters prefer to collaborate with ﬁeld personnel on a cover story, and most vectors view special requests as a fun challenge.
Erasure squads, on the other hand, are a kingdom unto themselves. As I said before, they really are a last resort. To give an example, a few erasure squads are equipped with scour rings. This is so they can feed people’s stacks into oblivion until complete deniability is achieved. Failing that, they’ve been known to leave hot zones with a bloody sack of cortical stacks in tow. Don’t like the way they do things? Then you shouldn’t have called them. The alternative to a total cleanse is letting sentinels take the blame for a blown op, which makes them only slightly more uncomfortable than wholesale murder. As long as Firewall’s involvement remains secret and transhumanity survives, the strike teams call it a win. There’s nothing in their mission brieﬁng about saving your morph or avoiding war crimes.
Such extreme actions only seem unreasonable if you aren’t on an erasure squad. Keep in mind that these people get sleeved all over the universe to ﬁght in the most horriﬁc situations imaginable. For thanks, we dump them back into their mundane identities, tell them to keep quiet, and let them suffer memories so traumatic most would head straight for a memory edit. Erasers have more respect for ﬁeld operatives than any other role in Firewall, but don’t confuse that for friendship. These people will never see sentinels as more than lightweight amateurs. We recruit almost exclusively from Fall military veterans. They know the risks and very much subscribe to the philosophy of “by any means necessary.” Also, remember that we need them more than you. Sentinels know a lot of intel, but their access is still carefully compartmentalized and they’re selected due to their ability to evade capture. Meanwhile, an experienced eraser knows where all of Firewall’s bodies are buried and is wanted by a half-dozen factions for deletion. The list of crimes ﬁlters and vectors have pinned on fall guys over the years is exhaustive, but when your job typically requires you to leave smoking craters in your wake, it’s hard for erasers not to leave any trace of their presence. Their deadly results have been blamed on everything from terrorist attacks to criminal organizations to reactor leaks. Regardless of their individual beliefs, erasers swallow the lies for the sake of the mission. This professionalism and loyalty is about all that can be expected when dealing with a squad. They’ll get the job done, and even if they don’t, the fallout will never reach Firewall. Never forget their effectiveness is total and unreasoning by design. If you have to call them, you should have already been losing control. Don’t make things worse for yourself by telling them how to do their job.
Debriefing / Silencing Civilians
For ethical and logistical reasons, we like to keep deniability as much on the Firewall side as possible. It’s easier and safer to get a sentinel a new morph than to expunge witnesses. This isn’t always possible though. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what civilians know and have to ﬁnd out before further action can be recommended. A debrief is required.
Debrief interviews should be carried out by ﬁlters whenever possible. They have the experience and training to ask the right questions while impersonating local authorities. They’re also compartmentalized from the operation itself, so there is little danger of being identiﬁed as Firewall even by civilians already aware of our existence. If sentinels assist in a debrief, it’s likely to be in a standby capacity, distracting real authorities that threaten to blow the ﬁlter’s cover.
A civilian knows too much if they can conﬁrm the existence of Firewall, identify the primary identities of agents, or possesses knowledge capable of reproducing an x-threat. Meeting any of these requirements warrants action, but strategies vary depending on the individual. If the civilian contributed to the success of the operation and seems sympathetic to the cause, the sentinel can recommend recruitment, in which case the issue is shelved until vetting is complete. If the civilian is deemed a risk by either the sentinel or assigned ﬁlter, more extreme action is required. Ideally, the liability is sleeved in an infomorph or some kind of cyberbrain. Our psychosurgeon vectors can then attempt mind hacks to eliminate the offending memories. It may also be possible to leverage the target’s reputation or criminal record against their silence. Firewall operations tend toward the illegal in even the most liberal of habitats, and that can often lead to situations where civilians aware of our identity face mutually assured destruction if they choose to go public. In some ways, this option is more desirable than memory erasure. Blackmailed civilians can be coerced into providing assistance to future operations. If a liability can be memory-wiped or threatened into silence, the success of the mission depends on eliminating the offending evidence before it can be backed up off-site or in ego storage.
This is the primary reason sentinels are often kept on-site after a mission; ﬁlters are quite adept at false ﬂags and misinformation, but they need help when it comes to collecting stacks. Sentinels are responsible for any wetwork while the ﬁlters and vectors do their best to cover up their moves. The liability to operational security must be eliminated in terms of evidence and ego, and a plausible motivation needs to be established to deter investigation from any backups or forks. In short, try to make it look like an accident.
It may seem cruel to require sentinels to assassinate civilians they may have come to know during a mission, but it’s the best option. Sentinels will certainly take more pains to make a clean kill than erasers would. Furthermore, Firewall’s limited resources can’t be spent charitably resleeving civilians that saw too much. If the liability doesn’t have a backup insurance, the sentinel is allowed to launder credits or rep through the organization and donate towards the victim’s new morph anonymously. Experienced sentinels call it the “guilt tax.”
Recruiting New Allies and Agents
Beyond flagging civilians touched by Firewall’s operations for recruitment, sentinels usually won’t have a hand in the actual recruitment process of new agents. It’s a violation of compartmentalization and introduces nepotism into the organization. However, a trusted face may tip the balance in our favor, so this rule is sometimes ignored.
Some transhumans encountered in the course of missions serve as better allies than agents. A crime lord might care nothing for transhumanity’s survival, but a desire for proﬁt and access to underground contacts could make it worthwhile to put him in our employ. An XP star might have few useful skills, but an enthusiasm for the cause might serve a burgeoning memetic propaganda campaign for the structuralist clique. Negotiating these “aware-but-don’t-care” alliances exposes the organization to an enormous amount of risk and should be reserved for those with proxy status. However, where access to a valuable transhuman asset is ﬂeeting, sentinels can represent Firewall and arrange terms immediately. Just be aware that the sins of allies are shared with those who vouch for them.
Then there are transhumans such as yourself, possessed of the rare combination of placement, skills, and beliefs to serve the conspiracy in battle. If at all possible, resist the urge to mention Firewall, explain its mission, or give the recruit any hint as to what they may be getting into. Sentinels need only notify a proxy of the candidate’s potential and say goodbye. Specialized personnel teams will then go about obtaining a fork for simulspace testing. If passed, the candidate gets a brieﬁng like the one you and I are having right now. If they don’t, they are none the wiser and can go on with their lives.
After recruitment, every server has their own rules for new agents. In some, you can expect loyalty tests, memory edits, and the like. In others, transparent decision making is shared among all members of the server, with speciﬁc rules to prevent abuse of power. In a few servers, they maintain one set of rules for low-rep sentinels and another for high-rep proxies and other experienced agents. You may be a fully trusted agent in a cooperative organization or you may be a martyr who dies over and over for transhumanity’s future.
Showing 5 results for: resignation + Nadiope
From: Makuma Nadiope
Attached: Final Psychosurgical Consent (Makuma Nadiope)
I am messaging to inform you of my resignation from the organization effective no later than six months from this date. The grace period is so that I might be phased out of active projects and minimize any harm my absence may cause. I confess that anything you could to do relieve me of duty sooner would be greatly appreciated. I still support and understand the mission, but the demands of my contributions have grown too emotionally taxing. I will remain friendly in any way I can in my reduced capacity, and I will miss the many friends I’ve made in our adventures. Attached you will ﬁnd my consent form for the mandatory psychosurgery.
From: Makuma Nadiope
Attached: Final Psychosurgical Consent (Makuma Nadiope)
I am writing to announce my resignation from the organization effective immediately. My utility as an operative is spent; the resleevings and psychological damage is too much to bear. We can all agree that my continued service would do nothing but sow dissent amongst the ranks and endanger vital operations. Please do not contact me again under any circumstances.
My consent form is attached.
From: Makuma Nadiope
Subject: I’m done
Attached: Final Psychosurgical Consent (Makuma Nadiope)
Operational security?! Now you’re concerned about opsec? Fuck. You. I can still hear the screams from your last secure operation, shithead. Always with the protocols … here’s your goddamn form, okay. Happy?
I’m out now. Done. Resigned. You send over the doctor now to cut this shit out of my head before I come over there and show you ﬁrsthand what those things did to Rawlins.
From: Makuma Nadiope
Subject: I trusted you
He was me, Dishi. He was me. I ignored your advice and checked in on Sara. She was sitting across from him, and he was me. He brushed her hair out of her eyes, just like I would. They were eating at our favorite sashimi place. That man was with my ex-wife … but I guess it’s just my ex-wife, right? His wife now. Or was it always?
Have I resigned before, Dishi? What really happened with my stack retrieval? Did he get out, and I’m just a fucking echo? Want to tell me the truth for once in your damned life?
If you come for me, I’ll kill you. Then I’ll take your ego. You didn’t delete those skills, did you? The ones your precious Firewall found so useful? You’ve seen what I can do. Stay away.
To: Cleaner Swarms Ltd.
Subject: Biomod ur morph 4 free!!!
Attached: Personnel File (Makuma Nadiope)
Resignation wasn’t accepted. You are go for retirement plan. Retirement plan is a go.
Call me when it’s done and I’ll grab a fresh one out of storage.
Today, sentinels like yourself do the majority of our work, but many of the proxies want to change that. Know the old Earth saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” In the future, we want to eliminate existential threats before they are actually threats. Some proxies believe that’s impossible and a foolish waste of resources, and they may have a point.
Who can possibly try to predict what we will ﬁnd beyond the Pandora gates or if the TITANs will return? Most of us want to try, though, so Firewall devotes a lot of resources towards preventative measures.
Crows engage in research connected to our core mission, which means we have people studying virtually every subject in the universe, no matter how trivial. Some of our people play the latest simulspace games and watch the hottest new XPs to analyze their memetic properties so we can apply their techniques to our own propaganda efforts. In general, most of the work of the crows is broken down into three major categories: anti-TITAN research, disaster response and resiliency, and xeno-studies. If you are an academic type, you may wish to transfer to the crows after a few missions. Talk to your router if a life of researching the extinction of our species interests you. However, every agent can beneﬁt from the crows.
The mystery of the TITANs has yet to be solved, but we’re in the best position to unravel it. Firewall maintains several dedicated gatecrashing teams who search for clues about their current location. We also keep tabs on scavengers and anti-TITAN ﬁghters who patrol quarantine zones and hotspots like New Mumbai, the TQZ on Mars, and Iapetus. Crows collate and analyze their ﬁndings to create new theories about their position. Some of us want to shut down all of the scavengers and anti-TITAN war bands we ﬁnd because they risk spreading exsurgent infections to the rest of transhumanity. However, it is currently believed the intel we receive from them is worth the risk.
We have learned quite a bit since the Fall about the TITANs, including interesting leads about their ﬁnal destination. Finding out where they went is only part of the puzzle though. Our progress in the last year has come to a crawl. Lately, some of the crows have come to the conclusion that our only real avenue of investigation left is Earth. We know so little about its current status and what the TITANs left behind there that some think that leaving it untouched is a strategic mistake. Perhaps they will launch large-scale expeditions in the future. For now, though, the crows are more focused on building better tools for our people to use.
Crow engineers are constantly designing new technology to deal with the TITANs. These projects tend to be fairly exotic, as improvements on conventional weapons have so far produced minimal returns on investment. Our engineers are now looking at things like strangelets, weaponized antimatter deployment systems, and reverse-engineering alien technology. Software exploits and hacks for exsurgent variants are also developed. New anti-TITAN weapons are frequently given out to sentinels for ﬁeld testing. If you’re brave, ask the crows on the Eye for new toys. You could earn a lot of rep by ﬁeld testing new tech. It is a risky strategy, though, as experimental weapons tend to fail in high-pressure situations.
The TITANs are not our only concern, though. The Fall might not have been preventable, but the damage could have been mitigated. Many crows focus their work on ways to minimize losses in a disaster through better response and increased resilience in society as a whole. This is a broad topic, so everything from improved farcasting technology to raising the minimum wage of indentured Martian workers is studied. The majority of funding in this area goes to “safe” topics like medical and infrastructure technology research. A great deal of this work is then channeled through the argonauts, so every transhuman society can beneﬁt from it—and that includes everyone, even the Jovians and ultimates. On occasion, some sentinels have stolen hypercorp proprietary research data, which wound up in the hands of crow researchers. Oddly enough, that data would turn up in anonymous open-source projects released to autonomist mesh networks. If you are ever in a position to acquire knowledge that could beneﬁt all of transhumanity, snag it and send it to the Eye. We can ﬁnd the best use for it.
The Pandora gates and the Factors are major concerns, so many crows focus their time on them. Crows are not supposed to go into the ﬁeld because their heads are full of very valuable information. Unfortunately, xeno studies are best done in the ﬁeld, usually through a Pandora gate. Bringing samples back from an exoplanet is a logistical nightmare. We do get a lot of usable data from gatecrashing argonauts and the Rage and Love Collective, but the hypercorps try to keep their discoveries secret.
Monitoring Hotspots and Individuals of Interest
Scanners keep tabs on every known existential threat in the system. If it’s an existential threat, why don’t we just nuke it? In some cases, we’ve tried and failed. The TITAN quarantine zones are resistant to weapons of mass destruction and risk spreading the contamination further if bombarded. We do not want to launch chunks of New Mumbai into space and collide with who knows what. Monitoring hot spots is invaluable. Our systems use a combination of robots, passive sensors, and embedded informants in scavenger and TITAN ﬁghter communities. Information is collated and analyzed by scanners to assess potential threats. We have spotted potential infectious vectors ﬂeeing the quarantine zones and stopped them before they reached population centers. That alone justiﬁes our work. Our understanding in ﬁghting TITAN war machines has improved by studying them in their “natural habitat,” as it were. Given that we cannot destroy them, Firewall’s decision to set up permanent monitoring systems was an easy call to make.
The decision to monitor certain exhumans was not so easy to make. We could wipe out every exhuman and singularity seeker we ﬁnd, but it is better if we watch some of them. They lead us to other exhumans and their hideouts. Knowing when to let a target walk and when to stop them is hard; mistakes are inevitable. Given the difﬁculty in monitoring them remotely, the proxies have felt it necessary to send in undercover sentinels in certain high-risk communities.
Technically, every sentinel is an undercover agent, but some are more undercover than others. If your cover is blown when you work as an argonaut researcher or as an Extropian contractor, it is inconvenient and possibly dangerous. Blowing your cover if you’re a triad enforcer or Jovian diplomat is an excellent way to get killed and tortured in simulspace interrogations for the rest of time. Some of our most dedicated sentinels go as full-time undercover agents in the most dangerous parts of the solar system. We are talking about exhumans, Nine Lives and other soul trafﬁckers, various terrorist groups, and the Jovians. It is more dangerous than gatecrashing or erasure squad work because you risk your life, mental health, and morality. Every sentinel has to make tough calls, but the deep cover agents have to become as monstrous as their targets. Purging the universe of an exhuman mad scientist is brutal, but it feels good when you win. Inﬁltrate that scientist’s lab as an assistant for a month and you will be ready for the psychosurgeons to scrub your mind. Some of our sentinels aren’t even that lucky.
While the costs of undercover work are very high, the payoffs are worth it. Receiving actionable intel before the bad guys act is extremely rare, but defusing a WMD before detonation justiﬁes nearly any cost we pay. If you are chosen for a mission where you are asked to prevent an attack before it happens, know that it is most likely the result of undercover work. Passive surveillance seldom leads to big breaks like undercover work does. Our pre-emptive strikes are also commonly based on intel gathered from undercover sources.
Taking out an existential threat before it becomes one usually means launching a large-scale pre-emptive strike. Because we do not have an active military, Firewall prefers industrial sabotage and other measures that can be explained away. Instead of an erasure squad, a small team of swarmanoid engineers can cause a station’s reactor to meltdown or detonate the engines of a ship. Collateral damage is almost certain, as most habitats and ships have innocent civilians as well as legitimate targets. In some cases, taking them all out at once is a mercy, especially if it prevents an exsurgent outbreak. It won’t always be as clear as that so use your conscience to guide you when you are in the ﬁeld. You are ﬁrst accountable to yourself.
Assuming you have agreed to the strike, there are best practices to follow. The best strikes are instant, unavoidable, and explainable by other means. By unavoidable, I mean strikes that the target cannot hope to defend against, like large explosions or hull breaches. An ambush with plasma riﬂes and seeker riﬂes does not quality as an instant and unavoidable attack. You have to think big. Habitats are fragile places, so be creative and ruthless. Program a shuttle to ram into the mother station at high speeds. Use a maker to manufacture a batch of nerve gas and introduce it into the life support system. Attacks on multiple systems at the same time are even better. Routers will usually provide assistance for important missions like pre-emptive strikes, so if they don’t, make sure the Eye knows about it. If your router can’t provide adequate support for an important mission, like taking an entire habitat out, then you need to speak up and make them accountable.
Posted by: Anonymous
It is important for you to know that our most powerful weapons are not our erasure squads, but our cutting-edge computational resources. I cannot go into details, but I am authorized to mention that we have access to some of the best technology transhumanity has ever produced. I say this because you will hear rumors on the Eye or through chatting with other sentinels about the exact nature of our capabilities. You’ll hear that we have caged TITANs working for us or that we found computronium on an exoplanet or some other ridiculous conspiracy theory. I cannot tell you what these resources are, but they are safe and, without them, we would have never recovered from the Fall. If that answer does not satisfy you, earn our trust. Work your way up through the ranks, pass the peer reviews and loyalty tests, and eventually you will ﬁnd out the truth. Of course, most agents do not obsess over our covert digital assets. They understand the need to compartmentalize. After all, you will seldom, if ever, have the chance to draw upon these resources.
In practical terms, our servers are not accessible to sentinels because they are dedicated to help fulﬁll our strategic goals. As I mentioned earlier, our scanners spend a great deal of effort trying to see the future. This not only requires the best possible data, but the best possible simulation models and the processing power necessary to run the models. We have spent a great deal of effort into building useful predictive mapping solutions to detect the next existential threat before it strikes and without the need of undercover agents. We have not yet achieved that goal, but with every bit of data we receive from sentinels, we get closer.
All right, I’ve already talked about some of the things we aren’t allowed to talk about. Just because you’re in doesn’t mean you’re completely in, know what I mean? The perception of our existence qualiﬁes as an attack to outsiders, but we have to take more nuanced methods for establishing the trustworthiness of our agents.
Need to Know and Compartmentalization
The key to maintaining an illegal conspiracy is not perfect tradecraft, but compartmentalization. Even though we maintain a private network, it is imperative that no one agent, from sentinel to proxy, is capable of bringing down more than a handful of operatives and missions if they are captured. Don’t take offense; this is not a question of loyalty or willpower. Psychosurgeons can cut all of that out of your brain. In order to keep Firewall safe, every agent is asked only to learn what they need to know in order to complete their current mission. This does not mean we erase your memories after every mission. Firewall needs the expertise you’ve gained from experience. You may be asked to allow psychosurgeons to tweak your memories when inﬁltrating highly dangerous areas, however, enabling the alteration or deletion of certain sensitive information. For example, we could change the names and identifying information you learned about other Firewall agents you served with, so they will be safe if you are captured. This is usually a voluntary operation, so you may keep your memories intact if you wish. In general, we do not edit the minds of our sentinels without permission unless they are incapable of giving informed consent, but there are exceptions in certain cases.
Need-to-know also means that you do not get too curious about operations you are not involved in. Other sentinels may refer to past missions, but unless it is directly relevant to the task at hand, ignore them. If you feel as though your current mission is connected to another Firewall operation, pass a query to your vector and wait for a response. Do not try to investigate past actions on your own if it is at all possible. Ignorance is bliss.
Comms, Records, and Archives
Good communication and data retention policy is vital for a long career in the Firewall. Vectors will give you speciﬁc protocols on a per-mission basis for contacting your router, and you should have extensive documentation on using the Eye. Follow those rules to the letter—they should stop eavesdropping from interested parties. However, you might ﬁnd the need to communicate with other sentinels in the ﬁeld using methods that will allow for surveillance: public or insecure mesh channels, actual talking, open radio communications, etc. Try to meet with fellow sentinels in your team before the mission begins to establish a good communication system. At the very least, establish codewords for important elements in your mission. Talking about exhumans or neo-primitive terrorists over an open channel is a good way to get the attention of local law enforcement agencies. Use of more sophisticated ciphers like steganography is only recommended if you have actual expertise in the ﬁeld. Bad ciphers can be easily detected by automated surveillance systems, which leads to unwanted attention from law enforcement or Oversight. This is true even in autonomist habitats. We’ve blown more than one mission when a self-righteous hacker intercepted and deciphered messages passed between sentinels and then publicly broadcast it on the local mesh as a public service announcement.
Data retention is clearly a problematic issue, but Firewall’s institutional memory is invaluable. Submit detailed after-action reports, with as much raw data as you can, especially XPs of your perspective. You are allowed to maintain your own records as long as you follow our policies, namely that you list what you are keeping and how you are storing them. In case something happens to you, we need to be able to retrieve or destroy those records. There are certain best practices that must be followed when keeping personal records of missions: every ﬁle must follow stringent encryption protocols, they must be purged of personal identifying information of other Firewall personnel, and they must be stored off the mesh. Overall, it is better to give everything to Firewall and let them handle the record-keeping. However, some agents become obsessive over their work, analyzing their performance between missions, so we have developed our policies to accommodate their quirks.
The Firewall archives are guarded by the best counter-intrusion systems ever built, so accessing them is not done on a whim. Most of our old mission reports are not stored on the Eye, but upon request, certain ones may be uploaded so sentinels can study them when appropriate. When making a request for material from the archives, make it as speciﬁc and compelling as possible. Everything on the Eye is at risk for possible viewing by our enemies. We do not take requests lightly. In fact, it is safe to assume that any request will put you under scrutiny. Expect some questions at your next peer review over it.
Show me a traditional organization and I’ll show you how the moles get in. Pay structure, hierarchy, and nepotism are the core structural deﬁciencies by which intelligence organizations have played each other for centuries. Firewall’s autonomist leanings shaped an interdependent, horizontal workﬂow that eliminates many of the blind spots upon which traditional espionage depends. Total autonomy is equally susceptible to enemy inﬁltration, however, and harbors the added risk of concealing fringe or splinter ideologies. To bridge the gap and insure internal security, Firewall uses the Eye to facilitate frequent peer reviews.
Peer reviews are conducted by a mix of Firewall personnel in varying roles. The reviewers may know each other from the same cell or server, but they can also be tasked into anonymous work groups. The panel reviews all the recorded data in a ﬁeld operation’s after-action report, assesses performance according to the rubric of mission factors, flags inconsistencies, and broadcasts conclusive recommendations to the server or across the entire Eye. In addition to the big role peer review boards play in establishing a sentinel’s rep score, they remain our primary tool for ﬁnding and targeting leaks within the organization.
Peer reviews are triple-blind: the ﬁeld operatives don’t know who is on the review board, the reviewers don’t know the identity of the ﬁeld operatives, and neither party knows when a review will be called for. A cell working out of Uranus could be tasked with reviewing data on a Mercury op three years later, or a Martian group of scanners might get tasked to scrutinize mission data coming from their own city in realtime. The randomness and anonymity of the process makes it nearly impossible to corrupt. Disinterested parties make objective assessments, knowing full well that they, too, will one day undergo judgment. In instances where peer review conclusions are uncertain or disputed, the controversy may warrant delaying the ﬁndings from entering the after-action report. This isn’t out of a desire for your well-being, though. If evidence suggests you might be a mole, we won’t be announcing anything that might give you time to run. Confusion in peer-review recommendations get resolved immediately through loyalty tests.
Aside from peer reviews, you can expect your loyalty to Firewall to be tested multiple times during the course of your career. Scanners and vectors watch sentinels for signs of bad behavior, like odd communications with unknown parties or unaccounted periods of time between missions. A sentinel who gets ﬂagged for behavior will be investigated by other agents, usually other sentinels if a blind peer review isn’t available. If the behavior cannot be explained, it will be kicked up to a router. At that point, things become serious. Expect to be called in for interviews or have your latest backup interrogated in simulspace. Asyncs may be called in to read your mind. The investigation will not stop until the truth is uncovered to their satisfaction. Sentinels who pass an investigation describe it as a special kind of hell, but I know that it works. This is not done lightly, so be as transparent as possible with Firewall about your off-duty time and activities. We do not care about your drug habits, affairs, or kinks, unless they can be used as blackmail against you. This brings me to my next point: the actual loyalty tests.
Proxies have to be paranoid about the sentinels they use, so loyalty tests are frequently used to assess sentinels. Some proxies go for simple encounters between missions. Someone tries to blackmail you about an embarrassing secret in exchange for trivial information about a Firewall mission you were in. Failure to immediately report the blackmailer results in a failure. Others are more elaborate, like false missions that reveal past Firewall actions in a negative light. Changing your opinion about Firewall for earlier mistakes also results in a failure of the test. No matter how the test is designed, you will be judged on a pass/fail basis. A pass indicates you can be trusted and things continue to operate normally. Failure has very dramatic and real penalties. Your rep will be hosed and the proxy may recommend you go in for a “training mission,” which usually means a grueling indoctrination of basic tradecraft principles for weeks at a time. That’s if your proxy likes you and thinks you made a stupid mistake. If your failure is deemed to be the result of a deep personal ﬂaw or a lack of commitment to Firewall, you may be encouraged to go into voluntary psychosurgery to correct those ﬂaws. Rejecting the surgery results in a black mark on your personal record. You may be left in limbo, unable to leave Firewall and unable to contribute to the organization. You may be sent on the worst missions and given no access to information. You may be exiled to a distant exoplanet or outer system habitat. Running or attempting to leave Firewall after a failed loyalty test results in other sentinels being sent after you.
We are not an exploitative hypercorp that demands loyalty but gives none in return, though. Agents who perform for Firewall will be protected. Aside from the safest backup servers in the galaxy, we also keep an eye out for all our people. The exact circumstances of our help depends on your situation, but you never have to worry about keeping a job between missions. You won’t go hungry or homeless, though a Firewall-given job may not be pleasant. More than one former hypercorp rising star has wound up as a maintenance engineer in the Titanian Commonwealth. Helping friends and family is also possible, but we can’t make promises. It is permissible to call in favors over the Eye for help in those areas. Many sentinels are glad to help their comrades in arms. Just expect reciprocal favors in the future when you have to help their families.
# Start Æther Jabber #
# Active Members: 2 #
< Proxy P: You need to shut down or retask the Colander operation. I’m linking some alternate assets that could ﬁll in and new action plans with feasibility grades within the acceptable parameters.
> Proxy B: The fuck?! How do you even know about Colander, Mel? We aren’t even in the same server anymore.
< Proxy P: You’re right. I’m not. I’m working ego backups now. I just pulled Leti’s last backup and instantiated her infomorph.
> Proxy B: I’m going to be as clear as I can about this: stay out of my ops and get off this channel. You-know-who has probably already ﬂagged us both for violating protocol like this. If I weren’t staring at the encryption with my own eyes, I’d be submitting you for loyalty tests and peer review right now. I still might.
< Proxy P: It’s not like I was ﬁshing, Saul. It was a routine follow-up. The scanners thought up a new angle on that Fresh Kills ﬁasco from a few years back and we had to do another debrief. She was the only stack we got back, remember?
> Proxy B: Okay. So? Ask your questions and put her back in cold storage.
< Proxy P: She could barely form sentences, you asshole. I was amazed she was even still on our rosters. I’d thought we’d interrogated and deleted her ego two years when those Ozma rumors popped up. But lo and behold, my muse ﬁnds her waiting for me in the bank after one search. You just left her embedded there, didn’t you? You bastard. After everything she did for us.
>Proxy B: Cut the holier-than-thou shit, Mel. She volunteered. And you keep talking like I’ve forgotten who I’m talking to. Do you, of all people, really want to have the ends-don’t-justify-means conversation with me?
< Proxy P: Do you even know the shit they’re having her do? Do you?
> Proxy B: No. I don’t. I don’t want to, and you shouldn’t either. I compartmentalized it out of my hands months ago.
< Proxy P: Saturn’s balls, Saul, you just handed her off? She couldn’t go ﬁve minutes without breaking into sobs. If we’d sleeved her in ﬂesh, she would have been sweating and flushed the entire time. There’s no way she can maintain her cover with those animals much longer. You’re risking the whole organization leaving her under that long. Not to mention what you’re doing to Leti. She’s got signs of depression, neural damage, PTS—
> Proxy B: I know, Mel! Okay! I get it. It’s a shitty situation. But what am I supposed to do? It’s not like those psychos she’s in with declare their blood money on income taxes. The credits she siphons off in a week can fund entire operations and remain completely untraceable. I’m not living in your brinker utopia. This is the inner system. If I have to task some spec-ops ninja to kill a baby TITAN in the womb, what good is our action hero if there isn’t enough in the budget to sleeve him?
< Proxy P: I get it. I really do. The greater good spiel. But it’s not enough to make her watch and record anymore. She’s had to start … participating. They’re making her do it now, too. To kids. It’s the only way to maintain her cover.
> Proxy B: …
< Proxy P: I mean, the backup is over four months old. She says it’s because of limited transmission windows, but for all we know she could already be dead.
> Proxy B: I tried, okay? Multiple times.
< Proxy P: What?
> Proxy B: I tried to get her out on three separate occasions. The server voted it down every time. Too valuable an asset, they said. I passed the op off because I couldn’t bear to watch anymore.
< Proxy P: God … then what do we do? Just wait for her to snap and blow her cover?
> Proxy B: Basically, yeah. We’d never send anyone in there without a kill switch. If she’s exposed, she’ll do her damage and leave no traces. She’s a good soldier.
< Proxy P: Fuck opsec—what about Leti? There’s a person in there. They’ve broken her, Saul.
> Proxy B: I guess that’s where you come in. You’ve got access to the archives, right? She went in a little over two years ago. When the time comes, do us a favor and delete everything after that point. Let her start over.
< Proxy P: And what do I say when she asks about the continuity loss?
> Proxy B: You tell her to be grateful for small mercies … and that I’m sorry.